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How to Give Your Fireplace a Facelift

These simple instructions take you through the steps — from start to finish — for transforming a dated fireplace using natural stone and a bluestone hearth.

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Step 1: Prep the Work Area

The first step is to clear and prep the work area, use large sheets of plastic or drop cloths to protect the floor and to keep furniture from being covered in dust. Next, remove the mantel and the firebox insert.


Step 2: Center the Fireplace if Needed

Measure from the firebox to the shorter edge of the existing hearth.

Make an equal measurement on the opposite side and mark a plumb line with a pencil. All of the brick beyond the pencil line gets demoed.

To create a straight outside edge for the veneer stone, score a line along the pencil mark with a chisel.

Use a chisel and stone hammer to pry the bricks loose.

Remember to apply this same process to the hearth.

Tip: Once the bricks and mortar of the hearth are removed lay and bricks that are standing on their sides flat to make a strong base for the hearthstone.

Step 3: Fix Damaged Drywall

If there is damage to the wall during demolition, fix the damage by installing new drywall. Measure and then cut pieces of drywall to size using a utility knife. Use screws to secure the new drywall in place.

Step 4: Mix the Mortar

With premix the product can be mixed in a wheelbarrow; just add water. Mix using a perforated hoe, moving in a back and forth motion, until an oatmeal-like consistency is achieved.

Step 5: Support the Hearthstone

Once the mix is ready, start laying support for the hearthstone. Measure the height, length and width of the hearthstone. For this project, 17" was measured from the firebox and with another inch or so added for the veneer there is an 18" base for the 20" bluestone to sit on. Lay down some mortar and tap the bricks in place. Check frequently to make sure the bricks are level as you move along.

Step 6: Prepare and Set the Thin Seabed Stone

Before working with the stone spread it out carefully, this way you can see all of the different sizes and color options.

Always start setting stone with the corners. To create a nice aesthetic select a larger corner to create visual balance with the bottom of the fireplace. Slather mortar along the back of the stone then press firmly onto the brick until it holds. Work upward from the bottom corners.

Tip: Place a loose brick under the cornerstone for support at the elevation of the firebox. In that way, the hearthstone fits underneath this stone, instead of in front of it, creating a more polished look.

Step 7: Alternate the Stones

When setting the corners, there are two things to keep in mind. The first is ratio, use different sized corners. If you started the bottom corner with a large stone, then alternate smaller and medium sized stones. Second is toothing — stepping the stone in and out to avoid straight vertical lines.

Step 8: Cut the Stones for the Mantel

When the top of the corners is reached, lay the top stone in dry, use a pencil to make a mark just below the height of the mantel to be placed later. This step is important because when a perfectly level piece of wood is set on top, you don't want the stone to interfere with leveling the mantel. Remember you can always make slight adjustments by adding a mortar joint below the mantel.

Now that the cut is marked on the stone, it's time to cut. Use a grinder with a diamond blade to score a line along the pencil mark, and then go back over it with more pressure.

When cutting stone there is going to be plenty of dust, pick a spot that can get dirty. Do not discard the cuttings. Some of the smaller pieces may be needed later.

Step 9: Select and Set the Keystone

Once the corners are complete select the keystone, it is the lead stone that visually balances the firebox. The keystone is centered on the firebox and it should have a little more color and character than the other stones.

To set the keystone, measure and mark the center point over the firebox then mark the center of the stone and mortar the back. Once the stone is centered and placed use a piece of wood to give the stone extra support until it dries in place.

Step 10: Stain the Wood Mantel

Rub wood conditioner on the mantel so the stain can be applied evenly. Allow a short time for the conditioner to dry then apply the stain color of your choice. Be sure the working area is well ventilated.

Tip: Wood stain takes approximately 8 hours to dry.

Step 11: Chip and Set the Stones

As you fill in the middle of the stonework, you can spend a lot of time looking for the right stone. Make sure you don't have continuous joints, which are straight lines. Sometimes your stones need to be slightly reshaped for a better fit, to do this, use a chipping hammer to correct the edge.

Don't use a big stone to try and fill a small gap between the stones. Use the chipped pieces that you have cut. This will save time and maintain the custom appearance (Images 1 & 2).

Step 12: Fill the Joints With Mortar

If you've been using a sufficient amount of mortar behind the stones when placing them, the mortar has made its way into the joints. This is actually a time saver; use a trowel to remove excess mortar from the face of the stones.

Make sure to fill all of these joints with mortar.

Use a thin jointer to pack mortar into joints that have not been filled then brush off the surface.

There will be gaps between the corner stones and the wall. Fill those spaces with thin strips of stone and repeat the jointing process.

Allow time for stonework to dry.

Tip: If there is mortar left over use it to fill the hearth, establishing a solid base to set the hearthstone on when you are ready.

Step 13: Paint the Firebox

Clean out the rubble and brush away any dust and dirt that has collected in the firebox. Use high-heat resistant paint, which can be purchased as a spray paint or in a traditional can and brushed on. Painting the firebox black provides contrast and helps accentuate the lighter stone.

Step 14: Edge the Base of the Hearthstone

Measure from the floor to the base of the hearth. Cut pieces of stone, mortar the back then set the stones along the old facing of the brick for the new face of the hearth.

Step 15: Set the Hearthstone

Dry set the bluestone hearth to make sure everything fits together well.

To prepare the surface spread an even layer of mortar over the brick base then move the bluestone into place. Use a rubber mallet to make sure the overhang is even and to adjust the position and level of the hearthstone.

Step 16: Fill the Joints

Now that you have set the hearthstone, fill the joint that abuts the firebox. Use painter's tape to cover the bluestone so it doesn't stain, then carefully fill the joint. Lastly, joint underneath the hearthstone so there is no excess mortar.

Step 17: Set the Mantel

To finish the project, spread a healthy layer of high-grade construction adhesive over the stone and along the wall then carefully position the mantel in place.

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